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Knocking out Parkinson's disease

In recognition of Parkinson’s Awareness Month, we share Colin McQuillan’s story of strength and courage as he continues his 20 year bout with the disease.

Early Influences

Colin loves boxing, he followed Muhammad Ali’s career for many years from the 1964 Heavyweight Champion title to his retirement. His grandfather, Jack also had a bit of a boxing career in his early years. Colin’s sons wanted to step into the ring too, so he went to lengths to get them a heavy bag, gloves and headgear; you could say boxing runs in the family. Colin says, “The influences are many, but the most important thing is that boxing helps me feel better.”

Courage to start

When he moved to a townhome at Boutwells Landing, he wasn’t quite ready to jump into a training regiment. He says it took him about a year before he crossed the threshold of the Wings Wellness Center where he participated in Tai Chi classes. Looking for a deeper experience, Colin partnered with Fitness Instructor, Greg Johnson for personal training sessions. 

A little over a year ago, Colin and Greg both saw a segment on CBS News featuring Gleason’s boxing gym in New York; in the very same gym that Ali once trained. They saw people living with Parkinson’s disease training like disciplined athletes in a boxing program designed specifically for them. “When I saw the program, I was inspired,” said Colin. 

Colin was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at a very early age when he was only 44 years old. He is not alone; the disease affects nearly 60,000 Americans each year. It destroys the brain cells that control movement, causing muscle stiffness, tremors, slowed movement, impaired posture and balance and speech changes, among other symptoms.

The Boxer of Boutwells Landing

Colin McQuillan in boxing gloves
When Greg heard that Colin had boxing gloves and blocking pads at home, he invited Colin to bring his gear to the next training session. Greg describes the early stages of the training, “We began with learning the basic punches and proper stance and balance.” The progress Colin has made is remarkable; he’s defying the statistical prognosis of his condition. Greg was impressed by Colin’s dedication to the boxing regiment, “He has progressed to being able to repeat four punch combinations and hit with power from a right or left-footed stance.” 

Now everyone knows Colin as “the Boxer of Boutwells Landing,” often poking their heads in the training room to witness his strength and dedication. The interest and inspiration Colin has generated is encouraging Greg to consider how other residents may benefit from boxing.

When asked what his favorite thing about boxing training is, Colin answered with no hesitation, “Hitting.” Greg laughed and said, “He hits hard. It’s a good thing I have the pads.” Colin says that his balance and stamina have improved tremendously and that the hard-hitting punches he delivers loosen up his neck and shoulder. 

 

Benefits of boxing

Colin is a living testament that boxing can improve the symptoms of the disease. “You have to be dedicated, like an athlete. Colin is dedicated” said Greg. Although the pair box together twice a week, Colin says he puts in time outside the gym as well. 

Boxing helps alleviate many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s:

  • Stretching before and after training relieves muscle stiffness
  • Footwork in boxing encourages improved balance and coordination
  • Punching practice helps to alleviate tremors, loosen tight muscles and improve hand-eye coordination
  • Shouting while punching improves vocal tremors and speech…and powers the punch
 

Beyond these, Colin says boxing relieves his stress and improves his stamina. The training sessions are incredibly challenging but Colin remains focused on the benefits. Boxing protects the brain and increases the production of dopamine, the brain chemical that the disease destroys. The new mental pathways that Colin creates through boxing motivate him to push forward every day. 

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